Coming Up for Air

Last night I finished reading George Orwell’s novel Coming Up for Air, which was a book club selection for our faculty book club longer ago than I’m going to admit.  I had to set it aside for a while, but I always intended to finish it – I’d read too much not to, but in all honestly, I was also enjoying it.  This book is the first book I read using Stanza, the free reading device on my iPhone.  I originally downloaded it on my iPod Touch (which was free with the purchase of my Mac back in August), but I had a great deal of difficulty getting it onto my iPhone later, and suffice it to say, I didn’t pick up the book again for a while.

The novel is the story of George Bowling, who wonders one day if you indeed can go home again and takes a trip to his hometown of Lower Binfield.  George’s voice is engaging – he is the sort of everyman who is easy to relate to even if you despise him at the same time, for he’s not a particularly likeable character.  When he sneaks off to his hometown, lying about his destination to a wife whom he feels will not understand his need to go back, he is confronted with one harsh change after another.  It becomes clear to the reader long before it becomes clear to George that his hometown as he knew it doesn’t exist anymore.

I think most readers are more familar with Orwell’s other books: 1984 and Animal Farm, but when the member of my book club selected this book, he said that sometimes it’s good to look at a writer’s lesser known works, and I agree this is the case with Coming Up for Air.  Writing the novel before World War II, Orwell is once again oddly prescient about the coming war and its impact on Britain.  It is perhaps the impending changes George senses on the horizon that drive him to see if there is one place in the world that hasn’t changed.  Though the reader can predict what George will find when he takes his journey, it is the journey that interests us.  How will George react to what he finds?  How will he change?  Interestingly enough, the answers to those questions are, at least in part, left unresolved.

I would recommend this book, but prepare yourself not to admire George much.  If liking the characters is important to your enjoyment of the book, you might steer clear of this one.  I will say, however, that even in disliking George for the most part, I did sympathize with him.  His feelings of powerlessness in a world careening into a different direction from that world of his youth are feelings I think most of us can recognize in ourselves.